This is the second mystery I've reviewed in the last couple months that featured female fire chiefs in small Southern communities. However, that's all that Kathryn O'Sullivan's debut novel, Foal Play, has in common with J.J. Cook's That Old Flame of Mine. Cook's is a charming mystery involving a ghost. O'Sullivan's book is more traditional, and, in fact, is the winner of the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Competition. That award has launched a number of successful series. Recent winners include Linda Rodriguez' Every Last Secret, Gerrie Ferris Finger's The End Game, and Elizabeth Duncan's The Cold Light of Mourning. Donna Andrews and Julia Spencer-Fleming also won the award with their debut mysteries. Now, welcome Kathryn O'Sullivan to those ranks.
Colleen McCabe is fire chief in Corolla, North Carolina, a barrier island in the Outer Banks of North Carolina that has become a vacation retreat for northern suburbanites. When her closest friend, Currituck County sheriff, Bill Dorman, asks her to report to the beach where they found a burned body, she's disturbed by his request that she leave the investigation to him. Can she help it that her gut instinct has helped him to solve a couple cases in the past?
Maybe that's why she doesn't tell Bill when she and her retired school teacher, Myrtle Crepe, see a man with a gun at the island's annual 4th of July fair. However, that one deception leads to more when Myrtle's house explodes, leaving a dead woman inside. Colleen can only assume Myrtle was right, and she had seen the killer of the man on the beach. And, someone must have known that Myrtle knew something about the crime. Even then, Bill doesn't want to listen to Fire Chief McCabe's theories, and she's forced to turn investigator with her dog, Sparky, as a partner. It's tough to keep secrets from the police chief, juggle her job, a guest, and a secret investigation. It becomes tougher when someone else is killed.
Kathryn O'Sullivan's mystery is a solid debut. Colleen herself could be developed more, however I'm sure she will be in time. O'Sullivan's strength lies in her descriptive writing. Corolla comes beautifully to life with its beach setting and the magnificent wild horses of the islands. And, the final chase scene in Foal Play is one I don't remember seeing before in a novel.
I love catching the start of a new traditional series. And, you can't go wrong with the mysteries that win the Malice Domestic awards. Welcome Kathryn O'Sullivan's Foal Play to the field.
Kathryn O'Sullivan's website is www.kathrynosullivan.com
Foal Play by Kathryn O'Sullivan. Minotaur. 2013. ISBN 9781250026590 (hardcover), 258p.
FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.